When Children’s Theatre of Charleston decided they wanted to make a big production out of their 85th season, they didn’t think small.
Thursday night, the company opens Disney’s “High School Musical” at the Clay Center, under the direction of Debbie Haught.
The production features 57 cast members, with young actors from 18 different schools, including actors from two Putnam County high schools and one Boone County high school.
There are also a couple of college-age CTOC alumni, who are spending part of their summer break from college as part of the show.
“What’s really exciting to me is that there are so many newcomers,” Haught said. “These were kids whose first audition was for this show. They loved the movie so much that it brought them out.”
Disney’s “High School Musical” was a legitimate sensation. Released as a television movie on the Disney Channel in 2006, it was a feel-good take on “Romeo and Juliet” set in a busy American high school with contrasting cliques and show-stopping musical numbers.
The original television film spawned a pair of sequels and helped launch the careers of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens.
Haught acknowledged that, yes, this show has a huge cast.
“But I’ve got some really talented kids in the show,” she said.
Haught was particularly pleased of the show’s leads: Will Manahan and Rachel Couch.
“Will plays ‘Troy.’ He’s a rising junior at Capital High School, sings with the VIPS, has worked with the light opera guild and is just an avid performer,” she said. “Rachel was my Cinderella in ‘Cinderella’s Glass Slipper’ and was on the kid’s show ‘Abracadabra.’”
Haught said she was happy with the entire cast she got.
“It’s a cool mix of kids,” she said. “What’s been amazing to me is watching them all learn to work together to put together this show.”
Working with a lot of kids is nothing new for CTOC.
The company has often produced shows using large casts, but the dance numbers and scenes in “High School Musical” required more space than what could be managed through their usual performances space.
“So, we’ve been borrowing gymnasiums at churches to be able to get all the kids on the stage at the same time,” Haught said and laughed. “We also needed enough space to do a basketball game.”
Sometimes, the cast met at Blessed Sacrament in South Charleston. Other times, they rehearsed at Elizabeth Memorial United Methodist Church on Oakwood Road.
Keeping the teenage cast on task wasn’t really that much of a problem, Haught said. It was a lot harder just to make sure that everyone knew which church they needed to be at and when.
“But even that worked out,” Haught said. “I only had a couple of kids go to the wrong place once or twice.”
Otherwise, rehearsals have gone well.
“Kids will be kids,” she said. “But it hasn’t been particularly hard to keep everyone moving forward. They’ve been consummate professionals.”
Partly, Haught thought, this was because of the material. Many of her actors have grown up on “High School Musical,” have seen it and its sequels in re-runs and on video many times.
“It’s just an iconic piece of Disney that they all know,” she said.
The stage musical is much like the television film, with a couple of new songs and a new scene or two, which might be looked at as updates.
“There’s a song called ‘Cellular Fusion’ which kind of approaches things with the explosion of social media,” Haught said.
When “High School Media” premiered, smart phones weren’t nearly as smart as they are now and Facebook users still numbered a couple of million.
“It’s a fun show that a lot of kids will recognize,” Haught said.